Monday, 30 March 2015

Luther Against The Antinomians: They Preach Easter But Not Pentecost

"The apostles at Jerusalem, together with many thousands of the Jews, had been justified by faith alone, i.e., by the grace of Christ; but they had their Nestorius and Eutyches sticking in them and did not see the consequence, namely that the law of Moses did not and could not contribute anything to this, but wanted to give it the idiomata which belong only to the Lamb of God, and said, as we have noted above, that the Gentiles could not be saved, unless they were circumcised and kept the law of Moses. That was the same thing as denying Christ and His grace, as St.Paul says in Galatians 2:21, “If righteousness come by the law, then Christ has died in vain”; and in Romans 11:6, “If it is of grace, then it is not of works.”But those at Jerusalem spoke thus: “It is, indeed, grace alone, but it must also be works alone; for without the law, no one can be saved, though a man must be saved by grace alone, without the law.” In plain German, that is cutting off one’s own nose, and not understanding what one says.
The schools call it, as I have said, antecedens concedere, and consequens negare; or consequens destruere and antecedens affirmare. It is saying Yes and No at the same time about the same thing. This no one must do, unless he is utterly ignorant or a hopeless scoffer.
That is what my Antinomians, too, are doing today. They are preaching finely and (I can think nothing else) with real seriousness about Christ’s grace, the forgiveness of sins, and the other things that can be said concerning redemption. But they flee the consequence of this, as though it were the very devil, and will not speak to the people about the Third Article, which is sanctification, i.e., the new life in Christ. For they think that they ought not to terrify people, or disturb them, but always to preach in a comforting way about grace and the forgiveness of sins in Christ, and utterly avoid such words as these: “Listen! You want to be a Christian and yet remain an adulterer, fornicator, drunken swine, proud, covetous, a usurer, envious, revengeful, malicious!” On the contrary, they say: “Listen! Though you are an adulterer, a fornicator, a miser, or any other kind of sinner, only believe, and you will be saved and need not fear the law; Christ has fulfilled it all!”
Tell me, is that not granting the premise and denying the conclusion? Nay, it is taking away Christ and bringing Him to nought, at the same time that He is most highly preached. It is saying Yes and No to the same thing.
There is no such Christ, Who has died for these sinners who, after forgiveness of sins, do not leave their sins and lead a new life. Thus they finely preach the logic of Nestorious and Eutyches, that Christ is this and is yet not this. They are fine Easter preachers, but shamefully poor Pentecost preachers, for they preach nothing de sanctificatione et vivificatione Spiritus Sancti, i.e., concerning sanctification by the Holy Ghost, but preach only about redemption by Christ, though Christ, Whom they extol so highly (and rightly so!) is Christ, i.e., He has purchased redemption from sin and death, in order that the Holy Ghost shall make new men of us, in place of the old Adam, so that we die unto sin and live unto righteousness, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 6:1, beginning and increasing this life here on earth, and completing it yonder. What Christ has earned for us is not only gratia, “grace,” but also donum, the “gift” of the Holy Ghost, so that we might not only have forgiveness of sin, but also cease from sinning.
Whoever, then, does not cease from sinning, but continues in his former wicked life, must have another Christ from the Antinomians, for the real Christ is not there, even though all the angels were to cry only “Christ! Christ!”; and he must be damned with his new Christ."
Martin Luther, On the Councils and the Church (1539)

A few glosses...

1. The saying, most often levelled as a criticism, that Lutherans "Shout Justification! but whisper sanctification" cannot be applied to Luther. 

2. It is a false interpretation of Luther born of laziness which claims that his famous rejection of Aristotelianism was a rejection of the use of formal logic and not simply a rejection of the Aristotelian ethic of virtue as applied to Christian sanctification by certain medieval scholastic theologians such as Aquinas (virtue as habitus) which distorted Christianity in the way of works righteousness - Luther's main concern. 

Such interpreters delight in Luther's use of paradox to describe truths of Christianity (e.g. simul iustus et peccator), but apparently neglect the place of paradox in Greek logic and rhetoric, where it was already known that paradoxes can promote critical thinking and some can be veridical, i.e. true. Luther's delight in paradoxical statements is not evidence of irrationality in his thought, anticipating post-modern irrationality, but actually rests on his commitment to the law of non-contradiction as classically set forth in Aristotle's Metaphysics.

3. Luther's doctrine of justification did not involve a "legal fiction" because God's declaration of pardon for the sake of Christ is not an empty word but a powerful word which creates a new reality in the life of the sinner through the gift of the Holy Spirit which accompanies it and which equips the believer for the continuing round of death and life through daily repentance and faith. The distinction between justification and sanctification in Luther is notional and theological, but necessary for maintaining the purity of Gospel proclamation over against the perennial human tendency to inject works into the sinner's justification.    

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Who's Afraid of Friedrich Nietzsche?

When I was in high school I read Nietzsche's Twilight of the Idols (I now remember it was paired with The Anti-Christ in a Penguin books edition)It was heady stuff, and not only because I was only 16 and finding my way in philosophy untutored, but also because the 'trans-valuation of values' that Nietzsche proposed - the rejection of Christianity, and with it the 'concept' of guilt and conscience, in favour of an amoral vitalism - was a direct challenge to the still very conventional world in which I lived. My family and upbringing was culturally Christian though not church going. I kept the book hidden lest my mother should find it! Now, older and wiser, I know that Nietzsche's attack barely touched the sides of Christianity properly conceived (which is strange, given that Nietzsche was a son of the manse; perhaps the relationship of father and son needs to be looked into more?). In short, Christians have little to fear from Nietzsche, who is somewhat "out there" as far as critics go.

But it seems that these days Nietzsche does not trouble Christians so much as the so-called 'new atheists', the popular philosophers de jour who, despite their nomenclature, actually propose little that is new, but merely recycle the atheistic arguments of the last two hundred years for a largely middle brow audience that has, to borrow C.S. Lewis's phrase, just enough familiarity with Christianity to innocculate it against the real thing. These folk are the contemporary representatives of the bourgeois, liberal European culture (transposed to a new world setting in the case of Australia, Canada & the US) that Nietzsche despised. Nietzsche is an unwelcome presence in their thought because of his fundamental contention that, contrary to their deepest convictions, morality is dependent on theology for its justification. 

This is the contention of English agnostic philosopher, John Gray, who writes in the Guardian...

"The new atheists rarely mention Friedrich Nietzsche, and when they do it is usually to dismiss him. This can’t be because Nietzsche’s ideas are said to have inspired the Nazi cult of racial inequality – an unlikely tale, given that the Nazis claimed their racism was based in science. The reason Nietzsche has been excluded from the mainstream of contemporary atheist thinking is that he exposed the problem atheism has with morality. It’s not that atheists can’t be moral – the subject of so many mawkish debates. The question is which morality an atheist should serve.
 It’s a familiar question in continental Europe, where a number of thinkers have explored the prospects of a “difficult atheism” that doesn’t take liberal values for granted. It can’t be said that anything much has come from this effort. Georges Bataille’s postmodern project of “atheology” didn’t produce the godless religion he originally intended, or any coherent type of moral thinking. But at least Bataille, and other thinkers like him, understood that when monotheism has been left behind morality can’t go on as before. Among other things, the universal claims of liberal morality become highly questionable."

          Read it all here